Monday, August 15, 2011

Copeland Park

All photos of La Crosse and Copeland Park available on Flickr.

This past weekend, I had to drive home to Milwaukee to pick up Lauren at the airport on Saturday. Given that my office has half-days on Fridays and I had nothing to do in the evening, this was all the perfect recipe to find a new ballpark to go to. My first inclination was to visit Peoria, the only Midwest League ballpark in the Western Division I haven't seen yet, but alas they were on the road. After running through a few other options, I finally settled on Copeland Park in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Erik had visited the stadium about 5 years prior and highly recommended it, and it only added about 2 hours to my total drive to Milwaukee. It was well worth the extra driving before I even got to the ballpark. The highways through northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota, particularly Allamakee County, were absolutely beautiful. Who knew that Iowa had hills and forests? I always thought that was a myth.

I rolled into town about 4:30 and checked into a hotel just north of the ballpark. My room had a nice view of the Mississippi River and I killed some time watching the Little League World Series regionals before heading out at 6. Copeland Park is also right on the river. And I mean literally on the river- many foul balls hit to the left side landed in the water. Since it is so close to the river, parking is kind of a squeeze. Your options are either a small gravel lot across the street, or to park on the street between the park and the river and risk your car almost certainly getting hit with a foul ball. I felt Yeller already had enough dents and the lot was half-empty when I arrived, so I parked there. After purchasing my standard GA seat and collecting my giveaway can coozie, I quickly found out that the stadium had been open since 5:30 for the final Fish Fry Friday of the season. The crowd was already electric as I waited in the huge line to indulge in this Wisconsin tradition, and for $6.50 it was a pretty outstanding meal. As a matter a fact, it was a pretty outstanding evening - for $15.50, I got a ticket, a program, the fish fry, and a large souvenir soda, not to mention the free parking. I came to La Crosse with only $22 in my pocket and I left with change, even after going to the bar after the game. After finishing my dinner, I walked around a bit and got a feel for the stadium. I enjoyed all of the subtle references to the team name "Loggers," such as all the trees that remained on site rather than being torn down. The one thing I didn't like about the park was that beer was unnecessarily difficult to find and the prices were not posted at either stand.

As I made my way to my seat in left field, I began to notice that there were many similarities between Copeland Park and pre-renovation Warner Park. The setup is much different as you enter, but the ballpark has standalone bleachers in left just like the old Duck Pond, and has an all-you-can-eat pavilion that looks just like the Duck Blind. There are also some suites in right field which are comparable to the left field party deck in Madison, aside from the log cabin motif. Once the game was underway, the similarities between the two parks went even further. A lot of the between-innings games were exactly the same - mascot races a child, dizzy bat race, child hits ball off a tee and runs for a homerun, and so on. The PA guy even sounds just like Aaron Sims. Most of all, this was the only Northwoods League park I've been to that is even remotely close to rivaling the energy and atmosphere of Warner Park. The Loggers would draw a sellout crowd of nearly 4000 on this night and welcomed their 100,000th fan of the season to "The Lumber Yard," and once again finished 2nd to only Madison in collegiate summer league attendance. It was also the final home game of the season, and this only added to the excitement.

The Loggers did not disappoint in front of the large home crowd, as they slipped past the Bucks 3-2 in 10 innings to temporarily keep their playoff hopes alive (they have since been eliminated). Starting pitcher Brando Tessar gave a gutsy performance, scattering 9 hits and 2 walks over 8 innings. The Bucks has several threats, including loading the bases with 1 out in the 2nd, but did not break through until a clutch RBI double down the right field line by Jordan Adams in the 8th, who was in turn knocked in by Sean Borman shortly thereafter to take the 2-1 lead. La Crosse tied it right back up in the 8th on a sac fly by Tyler Smith, and then won it in extra racks on another Smith sac fly. Louie Lechich was the spark plug for the Loggers all night, going 3-4 with a run and a steal, and a few nice defensive plays in center field as well.

After the game, I headed downtown for a couple pints at this place called Bodega Brewpub before turning in for the night. It was advertised as a brewpub online, but it really didn't brew any of its own beer. It did have over 400 beers on the menu though, so it was awesome. La Crosse is a beautiful city with a fun ballpark, but for heaven's sake stay away from the La Crosse Lager, it tastes like bleach.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 4
views from park - 6 (nice view behind the stadium)
view to field - 5 (my seat was kind of far away)
surrounding area - 4 (downtown a couple miles away)
food variety - 7
nachos - 2 (of the "bag o' chips/cup o' cheese" variety)
beer - 5 (Leinie's, Pabst, Miller)
vendor price - 9
ticket price - 8 ($5 GA)
atmosphere - 8
walk to park - 6 (short but nice)
parking proximity - 10 (adjacent lot/street for free)
concourses - 3
team shop - 4 (inside covered dining area)

best food - fish fry
most unique stadium feature - log cabin suites in right
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - Arcade Pumping toilet seat toss

field dimensions - 325/365/315
starters - Scott Benson (WAT) v. Brando Tessar (LAX)
opponent - Waterloo Bucks
time of game - 2:50
attendance - 3896
score - 3-2 W
Brewers score that day - 7-2 W

Brewers 71-51, +6.0 (4 v. Dodgers, 3 @ Mets, 4 @ Pirates, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 59-62, -11.5 (3 @ Nationals, 3 @ Pirates, 3 @ Marlins, 3 v. Nationals)
Twins 53-67, -10.5 (3 @ Tigers, 4 v. Yankees, 4 v. Orioles, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 12
Peter - 35

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